Alberto Cairo: How we Lie to Ourselves with Charts

Written by Aleaha Smith, Michigan State

Alberto Cairo speaks on the role of designers and information.

During the second session of the day, author, infographic specialist and freelancer Alberto Cairo challenges us to look deeper as we design and interpret infographics.

“We need to talk a bit less about how to make visualizations and infographics and more about how we reason about them,” Cairo explains.

He implores us to challenge and ultimately throw away common misconceptions we hold about visuals. For example, Cairo is confident the adage “a picture is worth a thousand words” is only partly true. The saying is only valid if an individual can interpret the picture correctly.

According to Cairo, only two-thirds of people can interpret graphics correctly. This is partly due to the fact that we, as humans, search for information that confirm our opinions. This can become dangerous in the era of “fake news.”

“We have evidence that shows that charts change minds.”

– Alberto Cairo

As journalists we must become more cautious when designing and interpreting information. We must look deeper into the reasoning behind why a graph is demonstrating certain information.

As we keep this in mind, we must also remember to remain transparent and true to the information we demonstrate. In the words of Cairo, “We should not simplify information, but clarify information.”

What can we do?

  • Test your graphics: Show your visuals to non-designers and observe how they interpret your graphic.
  • Show AND Tell: Try not to assume everyone will be able to interpret the information you are presenting.
  • Learn to reason with and about numbers: Learn to interpret and demonstrate data in a meaningful manner.

For more information or to view Cairo’s lecture slides visit his twitter @albertocairo.

For more on the sessions that are taking place at #SNDChicago, visit our Twitter (@snd) and Instagram (@societyfornewsdesign) for live updates throughout the event.

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